The Christian church is dying in the West. This painful fact is the cause of a great deal of avoidance by the Christian community… Surely God will not let his church come to death? And yet the history of the church in North Africa teaches us that we cannot assume divine intervention to maintain the status of the ecclesiastical institution. It is not only possible for Christianity in the West to falter, it is apparent that the sickness is well advanced.
Christendom is dead. That lumbering behemoth of a pseudo-Christian culture has finally keeled over and paved the way for a more authentic faith and a Christ-centered church. Admittedly, that sentence was a little harsh; but it is certainly true that the continued decline of western Christendom has brought about a tremendous opportunity for Christians to rethink how we can best live out the mission of God. The advent of Christendom transformed the church in dramatic ways. Under the rule of Constantine, the ragtag group of Jesus followers known as Christians went from being a marginalized, subversive, countercultural, movement to being approved cogs in the machine of empire and religion. To quote G.K. Chesterton, “The coziness between church and state is good for the state and bad for the church.”
The “Christianesque” culture resulting from both the explicit and implicit collaboration of institutional Christianity with the state existed in one form or another throughout Western Europe until it began to erode with the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment. From that point on the philosophically and theologically tenuous connections between nations and religious institutions became increasingly apparent as Christianity moved from being the center of Western culture toward a tacit civil religion. Within this social milieu the church established itself as the dominant purveyor of religious services and rites of passage. Those seeking religious engagement knew just where to find it.
Another cultural shift, which occurred during the second half of the twentieth century, proved to be a great challenge for the established church. During this time the civil religion of Western nations began to rapidly transform from a Judeo-Christian image into a more broad and benign deism. This loss of relevance has left the church reeling; desperately seeking to regain its footing and reach the world that seems to be drifting away from it. In the US, this societal shift has led to numerous models of the church which have each been presented as the perfect panacea for connecting people with Jesus. While the development of culturally/sociologically engaged methods of being the church is a positive inclination, these models have generally been based on the same faulty foundation of an Attractional church, which has merely been repacked over and over again with new images and slogans. The foundation of the Attractional church, in its great plethora of forms, has proven itself to be not only theologically untenable but socioculturally impractical for a Postmodern society and therefore must be wholly abandoned in favor of a Missional perspective; producing contextually relevant and biblically inspired ministry models, which in the US should include bivocational ministry and radical church decentralization.